This is a very special work by Edgard Degas. In fact, we can consider that this huge canvas (200 x 250 cm) painted in oil is a creation prior to this painter becoming the great artist who has gone down in history.
It's a painting he made to portray his uncles and cousins. A work that he began in 1858, when he was only 22 years old. And that would end much later, in 1862. The truth is that the canvas was never made known, since it appeared in the artist's studio after his death. Although the canvas is currently safeguarded in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
The Bellelli Family of Degas
The painting was made during the painter's stay inItaly, specifically inFlorence, where he went to complete his training, and where part of his family was. Specifically, his aunt Laure, who had married Baron Bellelli, and with whom he had two daughters: Giovanna, the youngest, and Giulia. This entire family is the one that appears in the painting, as well as on the back wall a blood-red portrait of grandfather Hilaire, who had died a short time before. Hence the sorrowful face of the lady of the house.
In reality, Degas is telling us about the atmosphere of mourning that reigns in the home, but also many other things about that family. For example, that mother Laure seems excessively rigid with the education of her daughters, while her father has amore relaxed treatment with girls. And perhaps because of that, there is a clear separation between the two parents.
As we said, it's a youth work by Degas. And although there are clear stylistic differences with the masterpieces that will come in later years such as The Essay, Woman Drying Herself After the Bath or The Absinthe Drinkers, the truth is that this is a great work.
It is a type of family portrait that shows us that Degas was already aware of the long tradition of this genre, especially in Flemish painting, where the characters of the different portrayed were also revealed through subtle gestures, as it happens here with the position of the hands of each figure, which has clear meanings.
But Degas' mastery is also evident in the composition, in which different perspectives are generated. Which are left open thanks to the presence of mirrors or doors in that very bourgeois room in its decoration. And in which you don't have to be very intelligent to read that there is not an excessively pleasant atmosphere among the members of the Bellelli family.